Summer here is a frenetic round of communal meals, exhibitions, apéritifs, and concerts.
In the past ten days I have been for lengthy and enjoyable drinks at my friends Jacky (built the bassin) and Marthe (painted main picture in my sitting room), enjoyed the ‘repas des producteurs’ in Bréau, attended the opening of the exhibition of paintings by Marthe and our Belgian friend, Anne, had a couple of enjoyable sessions playing music with Charles and Pierre, and attended an excellent concert given by Christine Capieu and friends in the Bréau Temple.
Tomorrow there will be the opening of the annual ‘Salon de Bréau’ followed by a village lunch ‘La Mouclade’ (did nobody tell the French not to eat mussels in months without an ‘er’ or in their case ‘re’?).
The bassin has been a sheer pleasure and relief. I tend to go down about five, have a lazy splosh and then recline on the decking, book in hand, but often listening to the water cascades and watching the dragon flies circle round, until eight, when the sun sets.
Bassin maintenance has been made easier. Jacky has built a robot shelter beside the water (rather than having to lug it from beneath the decking) and Richard (who made the bassin railings) has set up a mechanical pulley powered by electricity which lifts the robot in and out of the water.
I still need help with the twice a week filter cleaning operation as the plastic taps in the pump house are too stiff for me to manage.
I have spent much of the last week wilting indoors. It has been very hot – afternoon temperatures above 35 and nights becoming warmer too. Not much fun when you are wearing full length thick compression stockings. And as the week progressed the weather became heavy and stifling as we waited for the inevitable break.
I was not the only one to suffer. The lime tree (tilleul) which we had planted outside our original house over 20 years ago looks very unhappy indeed; it has shed half its leaves and has grown a circle of suckers around it to show its distress. I’m just hoping that it will recover. (The lime tree by the bassin, on the other hand, is looking very happy.)
last night the weather broke. With a vengeance. I think it was one of the most violent storms I have seen here: hours of menacing rumbles and flash lightning interspersed with dramatic forked lightning followed instantly by giant bangs of thunder. The rain got heavier and heavier, turning into violent angry hail, and then continuing deep into the night. This morning we had another small storm, but I think that is more or less it.
I was amazed to see how much water had fallen: the bassin has filled right to the top. The scorched brown terraces leading down to the bassin have overnight acquired green tufts. The last of the roses, already struggling with the heat, have gone and much of the oleander flowers. Oh, and as usual, much of my steep drive is now at the bottom of the slope.
The sense of unreality continues with today’s news about the new cabinet. The appointment of the lying power-hungry buffoon Johnson as Foreign Secretary leaves me speechless. I’m not the only one, so I’ll leave people like the politicians of France and Germany to express their contempt for this appointment.
The rest of the cabinet bodes ill as well: a definite lurch to the right, as well as solid representation of Brexit leaders.
I finally decided to do something about the sag in the middle of my front terrace. Jean-Pierre came with his assistance and has spent two days racking up the horizontal beam before inserting a new bit in the space. Seven centimetres of space.
Jean-Pierre claims that it is the movement of the children’s swing, hanging from the beam next to the post which is responsible, which has caused the subsidence. I don’t believe him (there is also subsidence in the nearby terrace with the jacuzzi). But to avoid having to shell out more a second time, I have ordered a stand-alone double-seat swing. Let’s hope it arrives in time for the grandchildren arriving on the 28th.
I’ve just had a good week with visits from Peter (Chris’s brother), Connie (his niece) and Nick (Connie’s husband)
Peter is of course a regular visitor and spoils me rotten with lots of cooking (for now and freezer), tidying up the mess in kitchen cupboards and generally unobtrusively sorting things out. It was Connie and Nick’s first time here since Jude’s wedding and the first time I have really had a chance to get to know them. They are a delightful couple and I hope they come again.
They packed in visits to the Millau Viaduct, Mont Aigoual, and Cirque de Navacelles (this time the trip was not aborted after theft and we did manage to have a good meal at my favourite restaurant in Blandas). On their last evening we ate at la Borie, where the views make up for the cuisine, which was not as good as in past visits.
Distinctive hill – must find out its name
Kitten’s hairs on end on seeing so many visiting dogs
I’ve learnt something new about retrieving stolen property in France: it is the Mairie (town hall) rather than the Gendarmerie which looks after lost or stolen property.
My friend Teresa is still hunting down what remains in her stolen bag, including passport and driving licence but not of course the bank cards and cash. The bag was found by an elderly French couple shortly after it had been stolen, just off one of the footpaths at the bottom of the Cirque de Navacelles. The couple picked it up because it looked new and clean and took it home to ask their son what they should do. He had found Teresa’s address in the passport, tracked down her telephone number on the internet, and left a message inviting her to collect it, and when there had been no reply had taken the bag to the local gendarmerie in Gigean, way down on the Mediterranean coast.
Since then Teresa has had several friendly phone conversations with the young man and his parents, but abortive ones with the gendarmerie, who either insist she has to come and collect the bag herself, or the next day, appear not to know about it.
I went to see the local gendarmerie, to see if they could help, and a young woman explained that after the police have made a report of the found goods, they are sent to the mairie, which has responsibility for lost and stolen property.
Teresa has now learnt that her bag was passed to the mairie a week ago. No word from them, so tomorrow she will try again.
I have hardly touched my computer for ten days. This can be accounted for by continuing visitors, stifling heat (two days of thunder storms have brought the temperatures down from over 35 to nearer 20), laid low with sciatic pain (so far nobody offering a promising outcome) and still furious and unable to concentrate after the Brexit vote.
I have known the Mitchison family all my life; our family friendships go back to the 1920s, when my grandmother, Tish, first met Dick and Naomi Mitchison.
I remember attending Naomi (Nou) Mitchison’s 90th birthday party and now it was the turn to celebrate her older daughter, Lois’, 90th. I must have known her earlier, as one of the vast army of grownups at Carradale, the Mitchison home in Scotland. But I first really came to know and appreciate her as my landlady, for two of my years at Oxford.
I did not like my college, St Hugh’s and Lois willingly connived to persuade the college bursar to agree to my living in Cherwell, the Haldane family home at the end of Linton Road, . To do this, on the day of the bursar’s inspection she banished the other six lodgers (all male) for the day.
I loved living at Cherwell, an eccentric late 19th century pile, complete with JS Haldane’s gas chamber and laboratory. I had the old drawing room – a vast space, impossible to heat in winter – which looked out over a field that led down to the River Cherwell.
We undergraduates (plus a medical graduate, at that time pretty wild, later in life boringly mainstream) lived on the first two floors, while Lois and her family lived on the top floor. Undergraduates tended to live this rather insular life, meeting only other 19-25 year olds, so it was rather fun bumping into two small girls each day.
The sheer size of my room made it a natural party venue. In my second year in residence I think I tested Lois’ tolerance by somehow allowing some pretty loud events. I remember one with interminable drumming and another with a juke box. But Lois was tolerant and good fun, soon forgot her irritation, and was a sparkling presence, with her background of travel, journalism and writing.
In the decades that followed, when Cherwell had been sold to the University and Lois moved to Park Town, and I in turn had two small girls, I loved calling on her there.
July 2016. Lois is 90
I’m so glad I came across from France for this birthday party. There were over 50 of us assembled beside the lake at Wolfson College, built on the site of Cherwell House, when Lois arrived by punt (the pole wielded by her older daughter, Tabby) to her surprise party.
Lois’ three surviving siblings, Denny, Av and Val were there, almost all the next generation, a vast number of grandchildren, many of whom had become young adults since I last saw them, and a small number of old friends like me. There is something precious about meeting up regularly with this group of people who have been the backcloth to my life since childhood.
I can’t say I am enamoured by the architecture of Wolfson College – too much sixties and seventies use of concrete and institutional wood, though the setting is wonderful. And the huge hall provided ample space for mingling and for the main activity of the evening: Scottish dancing (an old favourite past time of the Mitchisons). And there in the midst of the dancers, for well over an hour without a break, was the tiny figure of Lois.
There were speeches too (including a short one by me). In particular two grandsons, Terence Mitchison and Jake Arnold-Forster remembered with affection how Lois had supported them through difficult periods of their education, Jake of course reminding us how Lois had moved on from writing to teaching history, specialising in rescuing and inspiring A level students who had stumbled.
Lois arrives by punt. (Tabby punting, Alice waving(
Looking out, over the lake, to the River Cherwell beyond.
Val, Lois, Denny and Av
Lighting her own cake
Lois, thanking us.
I then went on to have a delightful evening in Richmond with Graeme Mitchison, my oldest and closest Mitchison friend, and his father, Denny.
Two very different but enjoyable concerts.
Last week I was part of the Ecole de Musique ‘orchestra’ which joined up with members of the Orchestre Chambre des Cévennes to play a piece by Shostakovich as part of the annual Fête de la Musique. I was the only pupil cellist; luckily two professionals sat in front of me.
On Thursday I joined in the Ecole de Musique’s annual concert. Different groups, backed up by their teachers, were scattered round the gardens of the Chateau d’Assas and played in turn, while the audience moved around.
I played (not very well) in the orchestra’s contribution and later played a solo (better). It was a hot, heavy day and the concert went on too long (two hours). Nevertheless it was good fun.
My cello teacher
and the future? Who knows. My teacher, Jenny, is having a baby in October and so far no replacement has been found. The pay is poor and people regard Le Vigan as at the end of the world. Plus, I will almost certainly be having a second shoulder replacement in October or November.